As if one dodgy twisted steel sculpture that no one likes wasn’t enough for the Olympic Park, says Rory Olcayto
Have you heard about the memorial sculpture London doesn’t want, though for reasons yet unknown, London’s mayor does? You’ve probably come across the story. It’s been covered in The Sun, The Evening Standard, The Telegraph and The Independent. On Monday night, ‘Rusting 9/11 sculpture to be installed in Olympic Park’ was the BBC’s most read story online. Each story, however, failed to recap the sculpture’s difficult past.
Here’s the gist: Boris Johnson has said the Olympic Park will provide a permanent home for a sculpture he unveiled in Battersea Park two years ago to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York. For the past two years the sculpture has been in storage. Then Johnson announced this week: ‘The park was home to a Games based on tolerance, harmony and respect, and will soon be home to a massive, multi-dimensional and vibrant community - the perfect riposte to those who sought to divide the world on 9/11.’
The sculpture was commissioned in 2010 by educational charity the 9/11 London Project, whose aim is to ‘develop, out of the horror of the events of 11 September 2001 an educational programme for schools, devoted to a proper understanding of what happened and thereby help to reduce the possibilities of any similar act in the future’. It commissioned US artist Miya Ando (pictured) to design a work with elements recovered from Ground Zero to act as a ‘symbol of this educational initiative’. It had high-profile backers, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and Sir Michael Oliver, the former Lord Mayor of London. Johnson, too, was eager to support its plans.
In December 2010, the charity’s application for planning permission to erect the sculpture in Potters Fields Park next to City Hall was approved, though not without controversy. The Potters Fields Management Trust opposed it. Trust board member and secretary of Shad Thames Residents Association Jilly Frisch said it was ‘too big and too violent’ for the small riverside park and cited the concerns of the park design practice, landscape architect Gross Max, which questioned how it would relate to the context.
At the same meeting, charity founder and life insurance salesman Peter Rosengard, arguing in favour, rather clumsily sought to address those concerns. ‘You have your Shard of Glass. Well, this is a shard of steel,’ he said.Given that Southwark’s decision was proving unpopular, a public consultation followed two months later, culminating in a meeting in which historian and charity supporter Simon Schama attempted to convince doubters the sculpture should be erected: ‘What you are taking away is the possibility of the citizens of London being able to reflect on the mortal danger posed by this atrocity. This is what you are withholding from them.’
However a relative of a 9/11 victim criticised not only the basic concept, but also Ando’s plans to use wreckage of the attacks to fashion an ‘educational’ sculpture. ‘How anyone could ever think of having artwork made out of that is beyond my understanding,’ she said. In the end, Potters Fields’ private landlords refused to back the council and blocked its decision. It took Wandsworth to step in and host the sculpture during 9/11’s 10th anniversary - but for one month only. Soon after, the sculpture went into storage. Now once again, a decision has been made to give Ando’s sculpture a permanent London home. You have to pity the poor Olympic Park: as if one dodgy twisted steel sculpture that no one actually likes wasn’t enough. I wonder what’s in it for Boris?